Magic Circle 1886

Date: 1886
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 183 x 127 cm
Location: Tate Britain, London, UK

The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse has long been considered an occult motif. In 1881, the artist exhibited a sepia drawing of a witch in the Dudley Gallery (now the Tate Gallery), marking the third such exhibition in three years. The painting depicts a flushed-faced sorceress tracing a circle in a moonlit landscape, marked by rocky cliffs and ambiguous Egyptian-looking structures.

Witch in a cauldron

The occult is a subject that has always fascinated Waterhouse. The sorceress in this 1886 painting chants and draws a circle in front of a cold, but burning, fire. Waterhouse's sketch is slightly dusky and lighter than the finished painting. The bloated white poppies add to the mystical atmosphere inside the circle. The witch then draws a magic triangle with her wand and body.

While the painting is similar to a similar work by Burne-Jones, Waterhouse based his design on a mythical tale about a sorceress. His witch wears the same dress, but her profile face is missing. While Frederick Sandys depicted sorceresses as malevolent, Waterhouse portrayed them as fascinating and intriguing. The image also combines the occult with prophecy.

Symbolism of evil forces

The symbolism of evil forces is central to “the magic circle” by John William Waterhouse. This painting features a dark-haired sorceress chanting over a bubbling cauldron and marking out a magic circle. The witch's arm holds a druidical boline. Both paintings have strong occult themes.

The image depicted here depicts an ancient Greek myth involving witchcraft. A tiny frog is accompanying the witch. Black birds are also prominent in this painting, and they represent the evil forces of witchcraft. Despite this fact, Waterhouse depicted seven Sirens. It may have been inspired by a Greek vase in the British Museum. These three characters are also thought to represent evil, which is why it is important to understand their symbolism.

The mythology of Circe can be traced back to ancient Greek literature. In the Greek pantheon, Circe is a goddess of magic, who is known as the enchantress and nymph. She is known for her vast knowledge of herbs and potions and is capable of turning her enemies into animals. Waterhouse didn't exhibit at the 1874 or 1890 Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions.

Meaning of magic circle

The painting The Meaning of Magic Circle 1886 by John WilliamWaterhouse is an iconic 19th century work, representing the growing interest in occultism and the role of women in the supernatural world. The painting is permeated with Oriental motifs, with the woman depicted as a witch, prophetess, priestess, or a combination of the three. A thin cane forms a magic circle, and a magician holds a scythe.

In the center of the image is a lone sorceress casting a spell. The snake around her neck and ravens perched on her skull add to the primitive aura of the piece. A white poppy lies next to her cauldron, setting the scene for the central focal point: the sorceress. Waterhouse suggests that the snake represents the ouroboros, the great serpent that circles the earth. Blavatsky, a co-founder of the Theosophical Society, promoted the ouroboros as a symbol of reincarnation and the evolution of magical symbols in world religions.